Fulham 3, PNE 1: Dave Seddon's match verdict
A great occasion, shame about the football was the general consensus as Preston went down to defeat at Fulham.
Gentry Day was everything it was meant to be off the pitch as 2,821 PNE fans invaded the capital for their unique act of remembrance for those no longer with us.
They came by train, coach, car and boat, then gathered in Craven Cottage’s away end in the hope the Lilywhites could continue to stay in touch with the play-off pack.
That part of the afternoon did not go to plan, Fulham for spells of the contest streets ahead with their passing and movement.
Behind after 22 minutes, it was to be a long day for North End, a brief chink of daylight provided by Tom Barkhuizen with his first goal on his full Preston debut.
For nine minutes, they were in with a sniff at 2-1 until the home side broke away to score a third goal.
Sometimes you have to hold your hand up and admit the other side were better.
This was such an occasion, the Cottagers as good a side as I have seen this season in the Championship.
Fulham are different to Newcastle, Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday who are chasing promotion and the play-offs, similar to Reading in parts of their play and if they continue doing what they did to PNE, they have every chance of making the top six.
As for North End, their hopes of doing likewise were dealt a big blow.
Following the victory over QPR the week before and the results elsewhere, there was a wave of optimism that the gap between them and the play-offs could be conquered.
The gap went down to six points, now it is back to nine with 11 games to play.
Impossible? No. Difficult? Very. They will certainly have to be better than they were on Saturday if the season is to go into extra-time.
A word at this stage for the Gentry ahead of a closer look at what happened on the field.
For nearly 3,000 of them to head to London was a superb turn-out.
Bowler hat sellers had done a roaring trade – although there was splendid top hat perched on one fella’s head – while some looked like they had stepped straight out of a Savile Row tailors.
The boat trip up the Thames looked a hoot, 220 fans sailing up to Putney Pier, Paul Sparrow from PNE’s 1995/96 Third Division title-winning squad among them ahead of commentary duties in the Press box.
Football almost became secondary to the occasion and the day-out will be what the majority of the travelling fans recall when they look back on the annual event.
Defeats are nothing new on Gentry Day, last year’s win at Bolton coming on the back of five losses and a draw.
Putting the occasion to one side, this was always going to be a tough assignment.
Fulham started the day a point ahead of them and the best placed of the chasing pack to gatecrash the top six.
It soon became clear that Slavisa Jokanovic’s men were in no mood to be generous hosts.
They got down the sides of North End by pushing their full-backs high up the pitch, to the extent they were often ahead of the wingers.
Tommy Spurr at left-back had trouble up against Sone Aluko and Ryan Fredericks.
On the other side, playing in an unfamilar right-back role, Greg Cunningham had Neeskens Kebano and Ryan Sessegnon for company.
Dictating the home side’s play from the centre of midfield was Kevin McDonald, a player Preston never got to grips with.
Much of the play went through the ex-Wolves man, with those in front of him given a licence to rotate.
Simon Grayson had gone with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The one change to the side which had beaten QPR was a start for Barkhuizen in place of Callum Robinson.
Barkhuizen started on the right-wing, Daryl Horgan was out left, with Aiden McGeady more central behind Jordan Hugill.
It looked like the idea was to try and exploit the space left behind the full-backs.
That was something they did with Barkhuizen’s goal but rarely either side of it.
After being impressed with what Barkhuizen had done in substitute appearances in the previous four games, it was good to see him get a chance from the start.
He will be pleased with the goal, showing pace aplenty to get beyond the Fulham back line and then produce a fine finish with the outside of his right foot.
It was just a shame for the lad – and those who celebrated it – that the goal did not count for more.
Barkhuizen was one of the positives from the afternoon, while I didn’t think Horgan was doing too badly before he got hooked as Grayson chose to change systems.
In goal, I thought Chris Maxwell performed well, not withstanding he conceding three goals.
A glance back through the notes shows he produced five saves, one a reflex stop at his near post to deny Tomas Kalas, another when he tipped a shot from Kebano against the bar.
Maxwell was my man of the match on a day when few threw their hat into the ring.
Fulham drew first blood in the 22nd minute after plenty of early pressure, albeit, PNE had created a couple of half chances on the break by then.
Kebano collected a pass on the left hand side of the box and pulled the back into the path of ALUKO who struck a first-time shot past Maxwell.
Horgan forced a diving save out of David Button early in the second half, his shot from 20 yards tipped over.
Fulham doubled the lead on the hour mark, Fredericks allowed to run in field from the right before feeding a pass to Chris MARTIN who swept home a confident finish.
A change to 3-5-2 seemed to suit PNE and they were back in the game in the 68th minute when McGeady’s through ball was met by BARKHUIZEN sprinting up the pitch from his new wing-back role.
The impetus was soon back with the hosts, Aluko riding two tackles before playing in KEBANO to score.
Fun had by all off the pitch, not so on it.
Match ratings and stats
Chris Maxwell 7
Despite conceding three goals, the North End keeper pulled off a number of good saves, two in particular from Kalas and Kebano
Greg Cunningham 7
Did a decent job in an unnatural right-back position before moving over to the left-wing slot in the second half.
Tom Clarke 6
Was kept busy throughout the game with Fulham on the front foot and their movement causing problems.
Paul Huntington 6
Honest display in the centre of defence but it was the home side’s day with their attack on top for long spells.
Tommy Spurr 5
Had a tough afternoon against Sone Aluko and Ryan Fredericks as Fulham overloaded the wide areas.
Alan Browne 6
The Irishman was again given the ratting role in midfield but didn’t get hold of the central area, not did his team-mates.
Daniel Johnson 5
Didn’t make too much of an impact in an attacking sense aside for one shot which went wide in the second half.
Tom Barkhuizen 7
Handed his first start for North End and responded by scoring keeping a calm head to run through and score.
Aiden McGeady 6
Played behind the striker from the start but did not get involved in the game as much as he has done in recent weeks.
Daryl Horgan 7
Decent show down the left-wing until he was substituted before the hour. Bit surprising to see him taken off.
Jordan Hugill 6
Had a tough time against Fulham’s central defenders, with him limited to one header early in the game.
Ben Pearson 6
Replaced Browne in the 57th minute and tried to add more energy to the midfield. Picked-up his 13th yellow card for a late rash challenge.
Callum Robinson 5
Joined the action together with Pearson in order to give Hugill some company up front.
Stevie May 5
Returned to the scene of his horrific injury 15 months ago, replacing Hugill late on.
subs not used
Simon Makienok, Paul Gallagher, Andy Boyle, Anders Lindegaard
Button, Fredericks, Ream, Kalas, Sessegnon, McDonald, Johansen (Parker 80), Aluko (Odoi 88), Cairney, Kebano, Martin (Cyriac 84). Subs (not used): Malone, Madl, Sigurdsson, Bettinelli.
Simon Hooper 7
20,205 (2,821 PNE)